One Saturday I went to the ancient neighborhood of San Blas, known for its handicrafts. As I walked through its zigzagging streets I was enchanted with the colonial houses raised on Inca walls that are still visible. Its blue balconies shine from brightly colored geraniums in terracotta pots.
Each step was like crossing a threshold into the magic of the place, its art, people and visitors.
The concentration of artisans in San Blas is not new. The Incas brought gold smiths from the Chimu culture of the Peruvian North Coast and they set up on the hill Toqacachi, which is now called the neighborhood of San Blas.
The Chimu craftsmen were known for teaching in the form of yachaywhich means teach to learn. They laid the basis for San Blas by teaching people how to do gold plating, ceramics, sculptures, silver carvings, wood and stone work, and of course gold.
Today’s craftsmen say they also taught them to be pleasing and to take pride in living in this place. San Blas, as a result, hosts numerous workshops and stores of well known popular artisans.
While walking down the narrow street of Tandapata I arrived at the upper part by the little plaza that is the main square of this typical craftsmen’s neighborhood. From there I could look out and see the variety of colors in the handicrafts displayed in its Saturday market. Generally these are inspired in the art of the Inca Empire.
The plaza is known for its pacch’a, its fountain of cascading water as if it were the long hair of mother earth. I walked down the stairs to its side and found myself needing to pause to enjoy the sound and beauty of the flowing water.
In the plaza, I saw tables dressed in cherry-colored cloth with the logo of the artisanal fair. Above the uniformed tables, the craftsmen of the San Blas Artisans Association display their diverse work.
All handmade, the variety is amazing. One can find jewelry, paintings, sculptures, sweaters, coats, dolls, games and others. The members of the Association receive me with a warm smile as I ask them about their work . They are thrilled to explore with us their vast creativity in engagement with tradition.
While walking through the fair, some rag dolls dressed as cholos caught my attention. They were all grouped together and where charming, looking as if they came right out of the animés I had just watched on TV, despite their traditional Peruvian dress.
On nightfall, the members of the Association mix with visitors, who are mostly foreigners, in order to enjoy the performance of live, Andean fusion music. Two or three live groups, contracted by the Association, have the responsibility to get everyone up and dancing as the night wears on.
This colorful fair is an important opportunity for pedestrian visitors to this picturesque neighborhood. It takes place every Friday and Saturday from nine am to six pm in San Blas’ main plaza.
From when one arrives, one feels a magical vibration since the place and the goods seem to take one to a more rustic place and time where there is more quiet and more time to enjoy life and people’s craft. That time and place continues to live in San Blas and its interesting and creative artisans.